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Monday, July 6, 2009

Shall I unscrew it for you?

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One of my favorite sitcoms of all time is Night Court. For some reason, one scene's always stuck in my head. Dan Fielding, the Lothario of all prosecutors (played brilliantly by John Larroquette), finally gets his chance to bed his nemesis, defense attorney Christine Sullivan. Always the…ahem…gentleman, Dan takes Christine out for dinner, orders some bubbly, and the matre d' delivers a classic line:

"Chateau Libido isn't one of our usual selections. Shall I unscrew it for you?"

Screwcaps and cheap wine have a long association. For years, only wines of last resort had screwtops instead of corks. These wines generally could be found comfortably nestled in paper bags in the hands of…well…people who regularly drink wines of last resort.

Enter the "Stelvin closure." Stelvins were invented in the 1950's in France. The Stelvin is a screwtop designed specifically for use with wine bottles. Stelvins are two-piece caps that create a virtually airtight seal, thus no "corked" wine or rotting closures. They're also much more environmentally friendly, since no trees are damaged in the making of these closures. In the late 90's, Australia became the first country to use screwtops widely. Some California winemakers (most notably Bonny Doon) followed suit in the early 2000's. Some vintners now put $100 wine in screw top bottles.

Since we're not worried about aging and you can open wines in another room - I say ease of use wins out over the romance of popping a cork. Also, since you can twist the top back on and the seal is airtight, the wine maintains taste for a longer period of time. So, try a couple of these and twist to your heart's content:

Hogue 2007 Washington State Pinot Grigio -- Hogue was one of the first large-scale U.S. winemakers to switch to Stelvins. They've always done decent, inexpensive wine -- but they grabbed a larger market share after making the twist switch. As for the wine itself, the nose is light with peach and apple scents. The body is full for a pinot grigio. It's a little acidic, but with an interesting creaminess. The finish is of decent length with a refreshing end. You could consider serving this with slightly heavier food than you might an ordinary pinot grigio. Fettuccini alfredo, grilled shrimp, etc… $8-10.

Twin Wells 2005 Terra Australis Reserve Shiraz: "So a Frenchman goes to Australia…" No, I don't know a punchline, and I have no idea if the winemaker is really a French expat, but this wine is as close to Europe as I've had from Australia. The Sweet Partner in Crime gave me this wine as a blind test, and I thought I was sniffing a Cotes-du-Rhone. The nose was a little too rich and fruity for a C-d-R, but the "Old World Funk" seemed to be there. The flavor is definitely Australian Shiraz: big, dark fruits -- but with an earthier body than most. The finish is long, a little tannic, and a little tart. The price is what blew me away on this one. Found this at Trader Joe's for $7. Serve with your typical shiraz foods: grilled meats, roasted chicken, lamb, steak, and so on.

Verget du Sud 2007 Rosde Syrah -- Even the stodgy French couldn't resist the temptation of the Stelvin. Winemaker Jean-Marie Guffens is a traveler. He wanders France looking for small growers producing good grapes. His wines are exclusively (to my knowledge) capped with Stelvins. This ros is made from southern Rhone Valley Syrah. This is a "pretty smelling" ros -- lots of flowers and pineapple. It's very nicely balanced -- the fruit isn't overcome by any acidic "bite." The finish turns tart and a little dry. The combination of acidity and full (for ros) body would make this a winner with almost any food short of heavy beef and sauces. With anything shellfish related, especially a fish stew or paella, it brings down the house. $9-12.

Any of these selections would be superior to D.A. Fielding's choice of sparkling wine. But few men have walked the earth armed with a better coup de grace than Dan's clincher:

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways....I know 52 of them."

Court adjourned!

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